Will absence make our hearts grow fonder of the Four Seasons Nissan Juke? The Ann Arbor-based Automobile Magazine staff members will find out, because the quirky hatchback just left for a stay on the East Coast with senior editor Joe Lorio, who had a lot to say about the car even before he left Michigan:
"I picked up the Juke on a rainy night in Ann Arbor before my drive home to New York. Cruising the Ann Arbor environs, I had a few initial impressions, the first being: the Juke's traction control is utterly worthless. Launching from a stop, I got tons of wheel spin and axle hop. What gives?
"The idea of skipping all-wheel drive in order to get the manual transmission would be a better one if the Juke's traction control were at all effective. But it's not. Anyone who often drives in slippery conditions probably should get all-wheel drive and suffer with the CVT. (Of course, a better solution would be for Nissan to offer AWD in conjunction with the manual transmission. Unfortunately, Nissan is stingy with the manual in this car, but that situation is common with other manufacturers, too.)
"My other initial impression is that ride quality is pretty bad. Impacts are very harsh. I think the Juke may challenge the Mini Countryman as the worst-riding vehicle of our current Four Seasons cars."
Lorio's comments turned more positive once he set off for New York:
"I was able to get a large, framed movie poster in the back of the Juke along with some other stuff. Bluetooth hook-up was easy. Seat comfort is OK. The seating position would be better if the steering wheel weren't so far away (the column tilts but doesn't telescope). The missing center armrest is a particularly irksome bit of cost cutting. On the other hand, the cloth upholstery is far nicer than the norm. Also, Nissan has done a great job of making hard plastic in the cabin look acceptable. The graining on the dash and door panels doesn't scream cheap -- same with the center console. The smooth silver bits are cool. At night, the view over the hood -- a design aspect more important than is generally recognized -- is really neat, with the orange running/signal lights visible at the corners.
"The tiny turbo engine is actually quite well matched to this car, and acceleration is sprightly. This is a far more pleasant engine than the larger, normally aspirated four-cylinder in the Cube. Part of that responsiveness, however, is due to the fact that the Juke's gearing keeps the engine pretty busy. At 70 mph it's turning 3000 rpm, which may explain the disappointing highway gas mileage: 28 mpg (indicated). That's really not good for a car this small, particularly given that this one is front-wheel drive, not all-wheel drive.
"In contrast to the harshness exhibited around Ann Arbor, the highway ride I found to be not bad. The cruise control was great at maintaining speed in hilly western Pennsylvania. I had a couple eye-widening moments of hydroplaning on these sporty replacement tires, though. That will jolt you out of the long-distance-driving zone."
Back home in the Empire State, he observed an indicated urban fuel mileage of 21 mpg; the car is rated at 25 mpg in the city (and 31 mpg on the highway). Even though the observed fuel mileage has been disappointing, Lorio praised the powertrain.
"During lots of starts, shifting, and accelerating, the clutch modulation and shift action are quite good," he noted. "Despite this being a tiny four-cylinder, the turbo is well integrated, and throttle response is pretty linear. All this makes the Juke an agreeable urban runabout. Even the ride quality -- which seemed so harsh in Michigan -- isn't at all bothersome in New York, even though our roads are far from perfect.
"The traction control, however, continues to be worthless. And the torque display is gimmicky. I'm also not seeing much value in having three powertrain modes -- I'm mostly leaving it in Normal, because that's the default every time you start the engine. Sport purports to firm up the steering a bit, but the standard level of assist isn't bothering me the way it did at first.
"The sloping, rounded rump really crimps the cargo hold. With the rear seats up, the luggage area is smaller than the trunk in many subcompact sedans, such as a Kia Rio or a Hyundai Accent. Even with the rear seats folded, it wasn't big enough to bring home our new grill.
"I think the frog-shaped Juke, following as it does the equally strange Cube, definitely earns Nissan the title for most adventuresome styling of any major -- or minor -- auto manufacturer," he concluded. "Be it for better or worse."
The Lorios have a family excursion planned for Memorial Day weekend, and the Juke isn't going to cut it as the vacation vehicle for his family of three and their gear, so they'll drive something larger, perhaps his wife's station wagon. The Juke won't be sitting idle, however: New York bureau chief Jamie Kitman will get it next. Even though Kitman owns more than two dozen vintage cars, we're certain he'll find some time to drive the little Nissan. Check this space in June...